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An Allotment Renaissance

Staring out of the window of a train at the tumble down sheds, rows of vegetables grown to military precision and old men leaning on their forks, allotments are a reminder of the past. A past when people were a lot more in touch with the land. A time when food didn't travel thousands of miles before reaching our plates. A time that has become rose-tinted with nostalgia.

But allotments shouldn't yet be consigned to the history books. In Brighton and Hove alone there are over 1200 allotments spread over 28 sites, and up and down the country over the past few years they have enjoyed something of a renaissance. In times past many people would have grown food because of poverty; now people do it for a variety of reasons. Maybe they don't trust the chemicals and pesticides being sprayed on our fruit and vegetables. Maybe they want the exercise. Maybe they enjoy the connection with nature, the coming and going of the seasons. Our small project is part of that renaissance. Initially started by a group of friends who wanted to grow some organic vegetables it has, over time, evolved with regular weekly workdays and various events throughout the year.

Sheila Groom was a local resident who came to one of these events. She started to get involved and the digging and weeding triggered off memories of when her father had had an allotment, now buried under the Hollingdean housing estate. In fact our small site is part of the odd fragments of those allotments which still survive. Not so long ago, the whole area was a mass of allotments, small holdings, pig farms, orchards and market gardens.

I felt there was a story to tell and so I started to try and find people who had once lived in the area to ask them what it used to be like. These interviews form the bulk of this book. But this is a story not just about the past, but also about the future. Our project is also more than just about growing food. It's a community space, which we try and encourage everyone to use, trying to reconnect people with the land and the seasons, because as Sheila says "Virtual reality seems to be more important nowadays than actual reality. It worries me that my own grandson can't tell a primrose from a bluebell. If children don't understand nature they're not going to value it are they?"

So, enjoy the book, not just as a nostalgic peep into the past, but as a pointer to a future.


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